New York, April 1953
In her comfortable hotel suite, a conservatively clad Miss Magnani smilingly indicated a seat and balanced herself rather tentatively against a chair near the window. Humbly apologizing for her unfamiliarity with English, the actress shot a hopeful look across the room at her interpreter-companion, a pleasant, alert lady who immediately proceeded to set the actress in speech and, unsurprisingly, motion.
She talks as she acts, with her whole body. As the famous staccato poured forth, now clipped, now torrential, one expression mercurially blotted the next. Fingers stabbed the air, interlaced and locked in concentration. Above the wide, mobile mouth and straight, generous nose, the Magnani eyes reflected childlike trust and the stark inscrutability of tenement windows.
“Bella, bella,” she crooned, peering out over the mid-town roof tops. “New York is in some ways like Rome. And I love Rome, especially at night when the city is alive and throbbing. But the noise here is bad. I didn’t sleep at all the first two nights. The hotel moved me up here yesterday. And now more noise. This morning — here,” she said, pointing to the ledge outside, “two pigeons woke me up fighting. Husband and wife. If it had been a man I wouldn’t have minded.” Miss Magnani exploded with laughter. Subsiding, she patted a dislodged thatch of shaggy hair.
“On my first night here, I walked along Broadway, looking at everything. Like this.” The actress twisted, turned and gaped. “I will keep that picture as a photograph in my eyes for a long time.” She listened placidly to a translated resume of her first week’s activities: a mass interview aboard the Andrea Doria; a harbor farewell reception for Ambassador Clare Booth and Geraldine Brooks (with whom she made one film), fourteen interviews, three evenings at the theatre, another at El Morocco, tea with Bette Davis (her idol along with John Ford and Henry Fonda) and an official cocktail party for the press.
(…) Had Miss Magnani a favorite screen characterization? “Many. ‘Open City‘ —the part was written for me. ‘The Miracle,’ of course. No, I wasn’t surprised by the censorship trouble here. Every country has its own laws.”At the moment, “since I am identified with drama,” she prefers comedy.
“Do I live my parts?” Magnani brooded, pursing her lips. “I feel that both as a woman and as an actress, I put my all into any part. The director is a painter. The actor’s success depends on his strength and the extent to which the personality is allowed to come forth.”
Miss Magnani sat up straight. “Do you know Julie Harris?” she demanded intensely. “I saw ‘Member of the Wedding‘ on the boat. Wonderful. Talk, talk, talk. I didn’t understand a word. But I predict an extraordinary career for that girl. That delicate body, the great spirituality of the face.”
Was the film’s projection of isolated childhood perhaps suggestive of Miss Magnani‘s own? “No, no similarity,” she decided, shaking her head. “I am a very courageous woman. In real life I always have done what I pleased.”